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00000177-6edd-df44-a377-6fff43070000WUNC's American Graduate Project is part of a nationwide public media conversation about the dropout crisis. We'll explore the issue through news reports, call-in programs and a forum produced with UNC-TV. Also as a part of this project we've partnered with the Durham Nativity School and YO: Durham to found the WUNC Youth Radio Club. These reports are part of American Graduate-Let’s Make it Happen!- a public media initiative to address the drop out crisis, supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and these generous funders: Project Funders:GlaxoSmithKlineThe Goodnight Educational FoundationJoseph M. Bryan Foundation State FarmThe Grable FoundationFarrington FoundationMore education stories from WUNC

Taking Flight For Aviation Jobs Of Tomorrow

Hannah Wade takes control of the FAA-approved flight simulator at the Aviation Academy in High Point.
Jeff Tiberii

Across the state thousands of high school students will graduate this weekend. About three dozen are from the Aviation Academy at T.W. Andrews High School in Guilford County. It’s one of only a few such programs in the state preparing young men and women for careers in aeronautics and engineering. And after two classes of students, the program’s graduate rate is perfect. 

"If you’re in the aviation academy then you’re very focused individual and you really know like I said that it’s what you want to do and we all need to go to college for this. So, staying in high school and graduating on time is very important to us," said Hannah Wade, a sophomore at the Aviation Academy.

Wade enjoys the instructors, classes and perks that come with the curriculum. It’s a curriculum that offers students the chance to pursue careers as aviation engineers, mechanics and pilots, among other industry positions. There is an FAA approved $40,000 flight simulator, wind tunnels, 3-D printers and a hands-on culture. Through two graduating classes, there is also a 100 percent graduation rate. The magnet program is integrated within the high school. Students take some of the traditional classes like U.S. history and geometry along with aviation fundamentals and structural analysis.  

"They’re highly motivated, they love aviation, they want to go places and do things – they’re go-getters," said Cynthia Waters, who leads the program.
Waters says students can earn an associate’s degree while in high school, receive FAA certifications and get paid summer internships through the program.

"So when people graduate, generally the first thing an employer will ask is ‘have you any experience in the field?’. And our students can not only say yeah, not only do we have it, but we also have the certifications. So they’re going to be a step ahead of everybody else," added Waters.

Waters’ vision is to continue working with Guilford Technical Community College creating a pipeline with nearby employers seeking qualified workers. HondaJet has its headquarters in Greensboro, so too does TIMCO – an aviation maintenance, repair and overhaul company.

"It takes a lot of people and that’s something quite honestly that we’re struggling with. We’re struggling with finding folks with the right skills, the right certifications to come to work here at TIMCO," said Kip Blakely, a Vice President with TIMCO.

None of last year’s graduates are at TIMCO, yet. They went to an assortment of places: four year Universities, Guilford Technical Community College, the Marine Corps, Air Force and flight school. This year’s group flips the tassels Saturday and moves on to the next step pursuing a career in aviation this fall. As for the Academy in High Point, it’s expecting its biggest class of freshman so far, when classes resume at the end of summer.

Jeff Tiberii covers politics for WUNC. Before that, he served as the station's Greensboro Bureau Chief.
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